Rafael Nadal

How athletes in different sports have declined

Athletes’ declines come in many different shapes, sizes, and forms. However, there are a few overarching trends that can be drawn from the majority of the cases.

For example, athletes who depend on a skill or trait other than athleticism generally tend to have more profound longevity in their careers than athletes who depend on sheer athleticism or physical dominance in some nature. For example, 34-year-old Dirk Nowitzki has aged much more gracefully than 30-year-old Dwayne Wade has. Whereas Nowitzki arguably reached the peak of his game around 30 to 32 years old, Wade’s game peaked from 25 to 27 years old.

This is most evident in the two head to head NBA Finals matchups between the two athletes. Whereas 24-year-old Wade dominated in a historical fashion while Nowitzki faltered in the 2006 NBA Finals Series, it was 32-year-old Nowitzki who put up the awe-inspiring and historically memorable performance in the 2011 NBA Finals. Wade blossomed early in his career and has already begun to decline as a 30-year-old whereas Nowitzki had arguably reached his prime after the age of 30.

Likewise, in professional tennis, Roger Federer at the age of 31, is still ranked No. 2 and has won a Grand Slam last year. However, Rafael Nadal, at the age of 26, has only accumulated two Grand Slams over the past two years. It is obvious that the rather effortless and gliding game o Federer has aged with a lot more ease than the powerful and physically demanding game of Nadal. Nevertheless, as history has shown us, losing your athleticism is never the end of the story.

Michael Jordan, until the age of 30, dominated the game of basketball with sheer athleticism and being the most physically elite specimen on the court. However, as he aged, his game surprisingly didn’t decline. He modified his game to a more skill-based shooting foundation rather than just physically dominating every opponent. In addition, as he aged, the cerebral development made Jordan more clever and efficient than ever before. Whether it be Nadal or Wade, it is never the end of the story when that physical decline begins to set in. Just take a page out of Jordan’s playbook.

WIMBLEDON, England — Until Sunday, Novak Djokovic never managed to win a grass-court tournament of any sort, let alone Wimbledon.

Until Sunday, Djokovic never was able to beat Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam match, let alone a final.
Until this marvelous — and nearly perfect — year, Djokovic was very good. Now he’s great.

After outrunning, outswinging and, for stretches, dominating defending champion Nadal, winning 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 for his first title at the All England Club and third major championship overall, Djokovic crouched on Center Court, reached down, plucked some blades of grass and shoved them in his mouth.

“I felt like an animal. I wanted to see how it tastes. It tastes good,” Djokovic said later, his eyes wide and his smile contagious. “It came spontaneously, really. I didn’t plan to do it. I didn’t know what to do for my excitement and joy.”
Putting together one of the best seasons by any athlete in any sport in recent memory, Djokovic is 48-1 with eight titles in 2011, including major trophies from the Australian Open and Wimbledon. On Monday, he will rise from No. 2 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, overtaking Nadal, a switch that was guaranteed by virtue of Djokovic’s victory in the semifinals Friday.

“I want to win more Grand Slams,” said Djokovic, the first man since Andre Agassi in 1992 to win his first grass title at Wimbledon. “I will definitely not stop here, even though I have achieved [the] two biggest things in my life in three days.”

Which, perhaps, is why he engaged in such a lengthy and original celebration, even tossing several rackets into the stands, the sort of crowd-pleasing gesture for which Djokovic long has been known.

Indeed, early in his career, Djokovic stood out less for his shot-making than for his showmanship — check out his spot-on impersonations of other pros, including Nadal, on YouTube — and a hard-to-explain propensity for losing, or even quitting, during late-round matches at majors.
Right now, though, the 24-year-old from Serbia is the total package, with the bona fides to prove it.

He credits a handful of factors with helping him truly excel recently: more maturity; confidence from helping Serbia win its first Davis Cup title in December; and a gluten-free diet he doesn’t like to discuss in any detail.

Djokovic’s only loss all season came against 16-time major champion Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals a month ago, Djokovic’s seventh exit from a Grand Slam tournament in the final four.

For so many years, Federer and Nadal ruled tennis. One or the other was No. 1 every week since February 2004. One or the other won 22 of the last 26 Grand Slam tournaments, including Nadal’s 10 titles.

But now Djokovic owns three of the other four trophies in that span — 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro has the other — and finally elbowed his way past that pair in the rankings.

“We all know the careers of Nadal and Federer. ... They have been the two most dominant players in the world the last five years. They have won most of the majors,” Djokovic said. “So sometimes it did feel a little bit frustrating when you kind of get to the later stages of a Grand Slam — meaning last four, last eight — and then you have to meet them. They always come up with their best tennis when it matters the most. ... I always believed that I have [enough} quality to beat those two guys.”

Rafael Nadal returns a shot from Roger Federer in the finals of the French Open on Sunday. Nadal won at Roland Garros for the sixth time.

PARIS – Regardless of the setting or the surface, Rafael Nadal confounds Roger Federer the way no other
man can.

Put the two greats of the game on opposite ends of a court in a Grand Slam final — particularly at Roland Garros, on the red clay that Nadal rules — and the one-sided nature of the rivalry grows even more pronounced.

Grinding along the baseline, using every inch of his wingspan to extend points, whipping fearsome forehands this way and that, Nadal flummoxed Federer yet again Sunday in a riveting, highlight-filled match, beating him 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1 for a record-tying sixth French Open championship and 10th major title overall.

This was their first meeting in a Grand Slam final in more than two years. It also was the first major championship match contested by any two men who already completed career Grand Slams. And Nadal and Federer put on a worthy show, more than three-and-a-half hours chock-full of lengthy exchanges, brilliant defense, sublime shotmaking and some dizzying shifts of momentum.

“A big occasion,” the third-seeded Federer said. “I was aware of it.”

“It’s always pretty straightforward when we play each other ... because we know what to expect,” Federer said. “I’m not in any way frustrated with his play.”

Perhaps that’s true, but consider this: Federer is 14-1 in the Grand Slam finals he has played against any other opponent. The only time Federer won the French Open, in 2009, he avoided Nadal, who was eliminated in the fourth round that year by Robin Soderling.

On Sunday, Federer raced to a 5-2 at the outset, but blew a set point by missing a drop shot that landed barely wide.

“I definitely thought that I got maybe a touch unlucky there, and he got a touch lucky,” Federer said. “That was one of my bigger chances.”

Nadal then won seven games in a row. Later, when Nadal went up a break in the third and led 4-2, the match appeared over, until Federer charged back to force a fourth set.

But Nadal once more assumed control, winning the last five games, then dropping to his knees and leaning forward with his hands covering his eyes.

“I was able to play my best when I needed my best,” Nadal said. “For that reason, today I am here with the trophy.”

He had a set point at 5-4, 40-30, but wasted it with a forehand that clipped the net and flew long. That made it deuce, and that’s when drops began falling. As spectators pulled on hats and popped open umbrellas, Nadal and Federer waited a few seconds before walking off the court.

Federer slipped into a private trainer’s room and hopped up on a table. Nadal switched shirts and fidgeted with his racket strings in a hallway, then had a brief chat with his mentor.

After a 10-minute break, the match resumed, and Nadal immediately earned a second set point. But Federer saved that one, too, opening an eight-point run for him. And then it was Nadal’s turn to take eight points in a row, including a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker, which he eventually closed with a forehand winner.

Federer wasn’t finished, breaking Nadal at love to get within 4-3 in the third set. When Federer struck a forehand winner down the line to break again and go ahead 6-5, he earned a standing ovation and chants of “Ro-ger! Ro-ger!” from thousands of fans at Court Philippe Chatrier.

“When Roger plays like this, the opponent has nothing to do, sometimes,” Nadal said.

With the crowd roaring each time he won a point, Federer served out the set, capping it with another forehand winner.

The outcome seemed in doubt. Federer had won 117 points, Nadal 116.

“All of a sudden, at 0-0 in the fourth set, you think, ‘OK, we have a match again,’” Federer said.

Nadal served to begin the fourth set, and Federer quickly gained three break points at love-40. This, then, would be the final twist. Nadal erased two break points with groundstroke winners, and the third with an ace at 120 mph. A service winner at 114 mph followed. Then Federer shanked a backhand off his frame and into the stands.

“Very important for me, no?” Nadal would say later. “That was a big turning point of the match, in my opinion.”

That made it 1-0, and Federer held to 1-1. But that was it. Nadal didn’t lose another game as the sun finally broke through the gray clouds, bathing the court in light. An appropriate conclusion for Nadal, the kid from the island of Mallorca who loves to spend free time fishing or at the beach.

In a city devoid of any major professional sports teams, individuals often take on larger-than-life roles as Austin residents latch onto hometown heroes.

Relatively few international sporting events are held in town, resulting in frustration for fans that want to watch their idols up close.

That changes this summer. Local tennis star Andy Roddick will face the world’s best player, Rafael Nadal, in July here in Austin.

The only remaining question is exactly when.

The U.S. will host Spain in the second round of the Davis Cup July 8-10 in Austin, the United States Tennis Association announced Wednesday. It is the first Davis Cup tie, as the competition is known, in the city’s history.

The individual matchups will not be announced until 10 days before the tie, but Roddick is expected to face Nadal in a singles draw, possibly in a victory-clinching match on July 10.

“It will be a dream come true, and I’m excited for the tennis community of Austin,” Roddick said by telephone from Miami.

The Davis Cup is the sport’s oldest international team competition, dating back to 1899.

The U.S. is the tournament’s best all-time performer, with a record 32 titles and an overall record of 210-64. Spain has won four titles, all since 2000 and most recently in 2009.

Roddick, a Davis Cup regular, is second in U.S. history with 33 victories in the event. He secured the Americans’ first-round victory over Chile with a win on March 7.

Nadal has pledged to play for Spain in the second round and, as the top performer on the world’s top-ranked team, would most likely face Roddick.

“There has been a little bit of a history of some gamesmanship between us and Spain,” said Jack Ryan, senior professional director for USTA. “They might withhold some information until the very last minute.”

Roddick was a large part of the bid process. The USTA also considered San Antonio and Albany, N.Y., as possible sites to host the contest.

“Over the years ... he was very active in getting our attention and talking to us about coming to Austin,” Ryan said about Roddick.

The tie will take place at the Erwin Center. Tickets start at $90 and go on sale April 8 for the general public.

“I think it’s going to be one of those crowds that’s going to get riled up pretty quickly,” Ryan said. 

The United States Tennis Association is expected to announce that Austin has been selected to host a second-round Davis Cup match in a press conference scheduled for today in the Frank Erwin Center.

The Davis Cup, an international team tennis tournament, is a single-knockout competition that boasts some of the world’s best male players.

The United States plays Spain on June 8-10. The other finalists to host the event were San Antonio and Albany, N.Y.

U.S. player Andy Roddick lives in Austin and has said in the past he’d like the city to host a Davis Cup tie, as the contests are known. Roddick sealed the Americans’ first-round victory with a singles win over Chile’s Paul Capdeville earlier this month and will headline the team’s lineup in the second round.

He will face some stiff competition — Rafael Nadal, the world’s No. 1 player, has committed to play for Spain in the second round.

There hasn’t been a Davis Cup tie in the U.S. in more than two-and-a-half years.

The Erwin Center would also host the event this summer in a series of five matches — four singles, one doubles — during the three-day period.

The host nation gets to decide what surface the tie will be played on. Roddick and most of the Americans prefer hard courts, although Nadal has found success on almost every major tennis surface. The American is second all-time on his country’s list of Davis Cup appearances at 44. Overall, the U.S. is the winningest side in Davis Cup history with 32 titles. Spain, currently ranked as the world’s best team, has four titles.

Jeff Ryan, the association’s senior director of professional operations, will be on hand to make the announcement along with Gov. Rick Perry.